The independent disability guard has announced that it does not have the authority to fully investigate the alleged neglect of a man in a state-run facility who remains in the hospital for more than a month after paramedics are called.
Hampstead Rehabilitation Center. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily
The case has been referred to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, but the commission has told InDaily that it has no authority to investigate state government services.
Proponents worry that there will be no independent answers about what went wrong and put other vulnerable people at risk.
But the state government says the matter is now being investigated “independently of the Commissioner for Health and Community Services.”
InDaily announced last month that the South Australian Department of Human Services opened an internal investigation after a man on his interim housing service at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Center in Northfield was hospitalized by ambulance in a state of “neglect”.
More than a month later, the man is still being treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
In addition to conducting its own investigation, the Department of Human Services (DHS) reported the matter to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, which says it is still “assessing” the complaint but has limitations on the investigation.
“The NDIS Commission for Quality and Protective Measures (NDIS Commission) regulates the provision of support and services funded under the National Disability Insurance System and can investigate any NDIS provider if there is any suspicion of a violation of the NDIS Code of Conduct said a spokesman.
“However, the services provided by the state and territory governments are not under the jurisdiction of the NDIS Commission.”
The service in question – called Transition to Home – is operated by the SA Department of Human Services.
InDaily is known to have emergency workers and several clinicians from the Royal Adelaide Hospital filed complaints about the man’s condition.
A doctor told management that concerns were about “basic hygiene and care, including wound care”.
According to DHS, the man received wound care from a registered NDIS provider and visits from a family doctor while at the facility.
The NDIS commission spokesman said the commission is “aware that this matter is being investigated by the SA Department of Human Services and has been referred to the Adult Safeguarding Unit.”
“It is also being assessed by the NDIS commission,” said the spokesman.
“The NDIS Quality and Protective Measures Commission (NDIS Commission) continues to work with all relevant parties and review the circumstances to identify any issues that need further investigation.
“The NDIS Commission cannot comment on this.”
InDaily asked the Department of Human Services how the investigation was going, what concerns had been identified and whether any third party was being investigated.
The department said their incident management department is liaising with SA Ambulance, SA Health, and the client’s family to gather additional evidence.
“The investigation continues,” said a spokesman.
It’s a bit like the police are investigating themselves
Citizen Advocacy South Australia’s program manager Rosey Olbrycht said it was alarming that the NDIS commission was not empowered to investigate government facilities and questioned how an independent audit could be done.
“It is a real anomaly that the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has jurisdiction over other providers, but not a large provider like government DHS services,” she said.
“It is clear that there are many problems within the DHS services, but there does not seem to be a transparent mechanism to deal with them.”
Olbrycht said a government agency should investigate its own service “just doesn’t seem right ”.
“It’s a bit like the police are investigating themselves,” she said.
“If it’s an internal investigation, there will always be a conflict of interest. Where is that independent jurisdiction?
“We all thought it was with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. We’re really shocked they don’t because now we don’t know who’s doing it.
“We have lawyers trying to deal with government funded issues and they’re getting nowhere.
“It is a problem.”
Olbrycht said, “the NDIS needs to get teeth”.
“For people who are vulnerable in our communities, NDIS is only part of the story, it’s not the whole story,” she said.
“There are many people who do not get NDIS support who are also at risk.”
Olbrycht said she was concerned that this matter and others would not be properly investigated and that bugs could be hidden.
“The risk is that people at risk will continue to be really vulnerable,” she said.
Olbrycht said it was “worrying” that more than a month after the man was hospitalized, there were still no responses.
“We should definitely have heard it,” she said.
“There should have been a public announcement about what happened here. I understand the need to keep the man’s identity a secret, but the problem needs to be transparent.
“You can do this without identifying the person concerned.”
The risk is that people at risk will continue to be genuinely vulnerable
The disability rights advocacy group said it was also concerned that there were still no responses to the circumstances that led to the man’s poor condition in a state-run facility.
“It has been over a month since the gentleman involved in this matter was hospitalized and there is still no critical information on what went wrong,” said Angela Duigan, coordinator of the Royal Commission’s Disability Commission.
“The South Australian community has the right to expect that our most vulnerable South Australians will receive the best possible care.”
Duigan said the NDIS commission’s lack of powers to conduct a full investigation was worrying.
“The delay in providing information about what went wrong with this man could mean other vulnerable people are currently at the same risk,” she said.
“We would appreciate strong recommendations on how we can ensure such incidents do not occur again in the future and that the government supports positive change as soon as possible.
“With incidents like this still happening, it is clear that there needs to be adequate, independent oversight of those responsible for caring for vulnerable people in our community.
“The delay in providing answers on this matter underscores the persistent problems within the current system.”
The man’s 24-bed Transition to Home program opened in March last year at the start of the pandemic in Hampstead to accommodate people with disabilities who have been discharged from hospital and are awaiting more permanent placement.
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SA Health owns the Hampstead Rehabilitation Center, but the Transition to Home program is administered by the Department of Human Services.
Opposition health spokesman Chris Picton reiterated the call for a full independent investigation.
“It is totally unacceptable for the government to try to cover this up with an internal review rather than a proper independent investigation,” he said.
“It only takes a full independent investigation to get to the bottom of the (alleged) neglect of care in this state facility.
“We need to find out who was responsible for setting up this poor service, how many patients were neglected, and what action is being taken against those responsible.
“How is it possible for a government agency to neglect its patients so soon after the Annie Smith case? We will continue to press for answers and responsibility for these mistakes. “
Opposition Human Resources spokesperson Nat Cook said “If a temporary solution is used to fill the gap, rather than introducing a permanent and safe set of options, people at risk will be put at risk”.
News Jemma Chapman
Tuesday, 15th June
“It is clear that due diligence has not been followed in this case, which has resulted in a terrible outcome for this person in a facility run by the Liberal Marshallese government,” she said.
This afternoon, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State for Human Services Michelle Lensink said, “Workers need to double-check their facts – the matter is being investigated independently by the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner (HCSCC).”
“The department has also notified the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission,” said the spokesman.
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